7 Warning Signs Your Work Schedules Stink

Infuriating, isn’t it?

You devote hours of your time.

And try to balance each and every request.

You’ve done everything you can. Everything to give them perfect work schedules.

But when the first shift starts? Hmm…

Employees are late. Even missing. And your phone is ringing… Who will cover for who? Do you have enough employees for a rush? The stress gets overwhelming.

Stop. Now.

There are other ways.

Here are seven warning signs to watch out for. And for each warning sign (of course) a solution. So you can build better employee schedules. Skim the seven titles and read those that sound familiar. Or enjoy them one by one. Don’t forget to click share 🙂

An Employee Is Often Late to A Shift.

Let’s talk about Joe.

Joe is often late to his shift.

I’m not talking about a group of employees coming in late because the subway stalled . That is a very excusable reason to be late. And there is really nothing your employees – or anyone – can do about that.

I’m talking about a single employee who often shows up late to the same shift. Joe.

Traditionally managers go straight to a documented warning system. Often this is written out in an attendance policy. (If you don’t have an attendance policy, check out our post on writing your attendance policy and sample attendance policy.)

Why does it work? Because of fear. Stop and think about that.

Are you really running your business on fear?

I didn’t think so, so keep reading…

Fear abounds under the threat of your attendance policy and its three step termination process. Employees fear losing their jobs, so they show up to the shift on time no matter what the cost. That cost may be personal obligations, family life, even educational commitments. Are you sure that those few minutes are really more valuable to your business than they are to your employee?

First stop and ask. Find out why they are late to that shift. Once you know the reason you can work with them to change the shift. Let’s talk about Joe. Joe has a class that ends at 10am and you have him scheduled to start at 10am. Either Joe has to leave the class early and let his education fall by the side (and hope for a forgiving professor) or he has to risk the fallout of your attendance policy when he shows up late again.

Ask individually what time would work better. You really need to be working with your employees to build schedules, not against them. Make it known that you’re not bringing out the attendance policy. That you’re really trying to find a mutually beneficial way to work out the lateness – something that is win/win. A solution only a friendly discussion can find.

Remember that 15 minute increments are your friend – now that you are tracking scheduling and attendance with software you don’t need to do things on the hour to make math easier. You can go with any increment you are comfortable with – there is nothing wrong with shifts that start at 8:10 or end at 12:40. Manual calculations are not happening anymore.

Ready to make a scheduling-ninja move? Try this out.

Now you know what causes Joe’s lateness: his class the ends at 10am. And how much time he really needs: 15 minutes is enough to get to work and have time to grab a coffee. You’ve decided to go with moving the start and end time of the shift up by 15 minutes to 10:15. Joe is happy with this – so far – and promises to stick to 10:15. But you’re going to take things a little further.

Here’s the scheduling-ninja move: Now find another employee who normally ends their shift at the time Joe was scheduled to start at. Ask them to commit to staying a few minutes later on their shift. Explain that this will cover for Joe, who’s shift is going to start at 10:15 instead of 10:00.

Bonus points? Have Joe negotiate his own replacement.

Employees feel the teamwork knowing they are covering for someone (and for who.) Here’s what will happen if Joe does show up late again. The employee covering might feel the responsibility and even stay past the end of their shift until Joe does get there. And, further, when Joe shows up his team-mate will be quick to ask why he’s late. Now you’ve created a self-healing solution.

Too Many Cooks.

It gets boring. Really boring…

Interest drops. Attention moves away.

And a customer walks in. But nobody helps them!

Why? No one is paying attention. Everyone thinks someone else will do it.

Too many cooks on a shift is bad for everyone. You can’t always control demand and sometimes you just end up with too many people on at once. You need to do some quick operations management and keep things interesting.

There are a few options that really stand out. This is the order:

  • Share. The first thing to do is share the information with everyone. Just sharing might be enough to solve the problem – volunteers will popup when you least expect it.
  • Breaks & Lunches. Have anyone who is due for lunch or break take their lunch or break. Even if the timing is off by a bit most employees will help you out by going half an hour or an hour early for lunch.
  • Volunteers. If you still have too many staff: Figure out when (at what time) you expect your next rush. Find out who is supposed to be done work before then. Out of that list ask first if anyone wants to go home (oftentimes someone will take the rest of the day off.)
  • Last Resort. Sometimes you can not avoid the extreme of sending people home. If nobody will volunteer you may have to decide who is leaving early. Make sure you understand local laws before sending employees home early. In complete fairness make sure that people are getting paid at least a minimum number of hours for showing up to work, and log the event in your attendance system.

If you can bridge the gap without sending anyone home that’s great. You’ll still need some way to keep those minds occupied.

Pulling staff from the floor for training is a great chance to improve skills and make use of the time. Your employees are happier with something to do and stay focused on. Your business gets the return on investment of training in employees.

My favorite is impromptu employee-led training events. Take four or five employees off the floor. A great way to distribute things is to take a few who are performing poorly in one area and a few who are performing very well in that area. Have them do a question and answer period together, impromptu training, and a knowledge transfer.

Another option is to have employees move from their normal duties to another duty. Try changing things up: Switch up indoor and outdoor tasks. Add creative tasks that contribute to the business like writing knowledge base articles. Have employees review and comment on marketing material and share their ideas.

If you continue having too many people on this shift as a recurring problem then its time to change the shift. Remember that you don’t always have to go with eight-hour shifts, you can take a half hour off the end of a few shits and add a half hour to start time of others to software up a certain period of the day without pulling employees from their shifts entirely.

Abnormally High Number of Trade Requests.

This is easy.

Simple, really.

Fix the shift! Nobody wants it. Right?

It takes too much of everyone’s time in trades.

First. Find out what’s wrong. Ask employees individually. What do they like about the shift. What do they dislike about the shift. Once you have information gathered you can start thinking about what to do.

Sometimes just gathering the info gives you the answer. Maybe the shift is too short. Maybe its too long. Or the start and end time can be moved around. Sometimes that is all it takes.

And if not?

Time to get creative.

  • Half Anyone? Ask people if they would take it in halves. Maybe someone will start early to pick up a few of the hours. Or work late to grab a few from the beginning of the shift if they line up. And if no shifts line up?
  • Days of the Week. Try significant changes. Four day weeks instead of five day weeks significant. An undesirable shift might become very desirable if it has a three day weekend. Perhaps your employees would prefer having three week nights off instead of two weekend nights. You have to ask around.
  • Odd start and end times. Now that you don’t manually calculate your time cards (right?) you can start and end shifts whenever you want. Try 8:15, 8:35, 8:50. Whatever works. As long as employees know when they start.

If you are going to use an odd start time for an employee try to use it for all of their start times. Ideally that would mean 8:35 every day, but if you need to change the hour try keeping the minutes the same. So 8:35 Monday, and 9:35 Tuesday, then back to 8:35 the rest of the week. That is easier to remember than having totally different times every day.

Add incentives to shifts that you really can’t fill but need to have for the business. The trick here is to make the incentive well known and let employees take it if they want to.

Incentives should start out with something very simple: Movie tickets or $10 coffee gift cards. You could also offer a premium rate for certain shifts. It is common to pay overnight hours (say midnight to 6am) an extra premium.

You don’t have use incentives that with high costs. Handwritten notes and cards can go a long way. You just have to show appreciation. Get the employee flowers to take home to their significant other.

Make sure that when you use incentives they are clearly defined before hand. These are not gifts, they are earned incentives. Everyone should know that, and everyone should feel as though they have an equal opportunity to earn the incentives.

If nothing works, go back to the first step and ask employees. Ask them in groups this time. Explain what hours are so difficult to cover. What you have tried. And ask if anyone has new ideas. You’ll be surprised at what they come up with!

Not Enough Staff.

“Hurry!” she exclaimed, “Over here!”

There are not enough staff on the shift. Blood pressures are running high. Faces are red with exhaustion.

Everyone is working harder to make up for the shortage. Customers are angry because they are waiting longer. Angry customers take longer to serve. Its a bloodthirsty downward spiral.

Do this one or two times and you can make it up to employees. Busy nights are just fine every now and then. Necessary even – keep everything alive. But if you do this to employees every night? Something has to give.

Morale drops. Eventually you end up with burnout. Employees leave. Managers quit. Business fails.

All from scheduling? Yes.

The biggest lesson I ever learned about shifts near burnout is that they are hard to fix. Really hard. The solution seems to be so simple: Add employees. And yet that’s like throwing water on an oil fire.

You get burning splatter.

It doesn’t work.

You need to talk to everyone on the shift. With every staff member discuss the pace of the shift, which times are the worst, and which times are not really a problem. Then ask each individually how they really feel. Ask how long they can keep working the shift at the same pace. How many employees self-identify as being near burnout levels?

It takes about two or three staff on a shift of ten. Two or three who will admit to feeling a little burnt out. If you have those two or three, you probably have an entire shift. Most people won’t admit being near burnout, especially to their manager.

However you must take notice. You must take action.

And you must do it quickly.

This is a hard decision to make. You’ll need to think about doing a major rotation. Of all your shifts. Some teams will be taken from. Other staff teams added to. Identify who on the shift loves the stress and wants to stay. Keep them there. Offer them a shift lead position if you can. Offer everyone else other shifts that they may prefer. If they would rather not change that is fine too – motivation is great.

Next fill in the missing spots. If it was a shift of ten you should be filling it in with at least five new staff. At least half of the shift.

Changing up your teams avoids “memory burnout.” This is a process that occurs when everyone thinks burnout is happening. It is the reason why you can’t just add staff to a shift. Everyone thinks a shift is near burnout. You add a staff member or two to the shift. They reluctantly accept. Before they even start the shift they are feeling the effects of the burnout. It happens because it is expected to happen.

When you do the full rotation try to get everyone in on the news. Recognize that the shift was near burnout. Recognize that the employees on that shift were pulling more than their weight. Thank them in front of everyone. Break the news that the shift is being changed significantly. That the burnout now has a chance to go away.

Bailing Out Early.

“Hey, where’s Joe?”

He left… Early.

Joe can’t work late on Thursday night. He always leaves early on Thursday night.

Maybe he’s going to meet friends. Maybe he gets bored… Or maybe he leaves early so he can get to an evening class. Or go to see his daughter. It doesn’t really matter why Joe leaves early. What matters is how you chose to deal with it.

You can turn to the trusty old employee attendance policy. It says very clearly that each employee must stay right up to the end of their shift. And that each time they leave early they get a written warning.

Three warnings and you can terminate Joe.

Whoa… Termination?

Sometimes the language used in these old human resources type documents gets pretty heavy. Would you really consider firing Joe because he has a problem with his schedule one night a week?

Maybe these policies were written with the intention of never being used. Maybe they were just written as cover-your-ass in court material. Or could be that someone really thought everyone should be held to such strict policies… I think you should try other things first.

Be flexible. And I don’t just mean this as “chill out” and “relax.” I’m talking about changing the requirements of your schedule. Do talk to Joe and find out whats going on. Don’t lay the book out and start the the termination process.

You don’t have to be a terminator.

We’re not in the 90’s anymore.

Be flexible and give a little. You’ll get a bit back. Let’s say that after speaking with Joe you find out his reason for leaving early. Its a good reason. You may agree. Or maybe not. It doesn’t matter – either way you have both agreed that leaving ten minutes early Thursdays would entirely solve the problem.

So here’s where things can get interesting.

It could be that you don’t need him there for the final ten minutes of his shift. Change up the schedule and everyone is happy. Or, perhaps you do need him. What other options are there?

Maybe you have someone who starts their shift right when Joe ends his. You could ask them to come in early. Let both know what’s going on. This is a nice team work solution where someone is helping out for the other.

Or maybe you absolutely need Joe to stay right to the end of the shift. Then what? Again, just stay flexible. Take an hour from the end of Joe’s shift and move it to the end of someone else’s so you have the full coverage.

There’s always an easier way than going down the terminator path. Staying flexible builds trust with your employees. You give them a little and they’ll give back to you as well.

Now if eventually you must go down the terminator path… Please do so after talking to your employees and working together to find a shift plan that works. Sometimes building your work schedules can be tough, but the reward for great employee scheduling is happy employees, which translates to happy customers and a happy business.

Lack of Team Work.

“There’s no I in –” oh, ok… you already know that one.

OK, How is this:

“Individually, we are on drop. Together, we are an ocean.” – Ryunsuke Satoro.

Better? Almost profound?

Teamwork can make a profound difference on your business.

Improved performance. Better utilization of resources. Faster problem solving. The benefits of team work are really beyond the scope of this article. We both know what they are already.

The truth is you need to foster and support an environment where team work can take root. Where employees can build relationships and trust with each other. Scheduling can sometimes force you to do things that aren’t in the best interests of the teams.

You might have to move people away from a shift where they fit in very well. Changing shifts may change the groups and the natural leaders amongst them.

While building your schedules you really need to watch the teams closely. Figure out who works well with who. Who are your natural leaders. Make sure you keep your strongest mixed in with your newer hires so they can transfer knowledge.

You will naturally see shifts and departments where some employees excel and others struggle. Over time you will notice that employees change – sometimes we just need change to keep interested and motivated to continue learning.

If you come across an entire shift that is lacking team work you need to solve that for the shift. Often our first reaction is to change up the shift. This is not always the best route to improve team work: it can be much better to attack the problem straight on.

The first place to put your efforts is with the manager working the shift. Discuss how you will measure team work. Discuss how they can improve. Work directly with your manager to improve his or her skills. Remember that anything you can teach to the manager will get translated to the team.

Define goals for the shift. Work with the entire team to set and discuss goals. Measure where the team is today. Discuss you want them to get to and when. Schedule the next meeting where the metrics will be reviewed.

Bonus Points? Set an incentive for shifts/teams that meet their goals on a regular basis. If you want to equalize the incentive amongst all employees an easy way is to bring in donuts/coffee/deserts for everyone in the name of the team who performed the best. Very much like making a donation ‘on behalf of’ opposed to a gift.

If all else fails, it may be time to change leaders. Nominate a new leader from within if you can. Look at everyone on the shift and make a point that the natural leader become the manager. Move the existing manager to another shift or create a different position or them.

Late Night, Early Mornings, and Overnights Hard to Fill.

This one comes from a small take-out shop in Chicago.

They’re open late – until 1:00 AM – all week except Sunday.

The shift fills quick – except for Thursdays. And on Thursdays not only is it a problem but nobody wants to touch the shift.

But why? Tips should be better. More customers come in the door. Thursday is a good night. The shift manager starts asking around: Why won’t this shift fill…

Did you already guess? Yeah, Transportation.

Wait. What? Why transportation? The last train is at the same time as every night.

The train runs the same schedule. Something else is happening. The Thursday shift often works a few minutes late – almost always ten minutes late. It is an after effect of the afternoon bar delivery. And to make it worse parking on Thursday is almost impossible.

So it turns out the problem is more complex. A delivery causes the shift to work late. You can’t make the train if you work the extra ten minutes. And if you tried driving in you’d be parked a half-mile away.

There are many solutions – notice the big thing that happened? Ask your employees first, find the real problem.

Once you’ve found the source you can try to fix it. So if you can fix the delivery so that employees can leave on time as scheduled. You expect them to work on time, they expect to go home on time. If its not possible and you have to change the end time of the shift to be plus ten or fifteen minutes then it will stay hard to fill.

When shifts are hard to fill because of late hours, overnight, or super early hours you need to think about security. Don’t cut corners on your employees security. They won’t accept it – and the fall out isn’t worth it. There are better places to look to save a few dollars.

Think about what it would be like walking out of your place of business at those late hours. Think about the entire walk from there to the next secure place. Come up with some ideas on how to make that more appealing for an employee.

  • Don’t Stagger Shifts At Night. We often suggest staggering shift start/end times by ten or fifteen minutes. Late at night and early morning we suggest the exact opposite. Have everyone who has to come in be there at the same time and leaving at the same time. Strength in numbers.
  • Taxis. Work with a local taxi company. The drivers will figure it out. If there is often a pickup or two at your business at a certain hour (because all your night shifts are not staggered) they’ll be there.
  • Lighting. Motion lighting is inexpensive and can make a lot of difference to a poorly lit entrance/exit. Invest in a few if they will keep your employees safer at night.
  • Hire Extra Security. This one might cost more than but do consider it. You can find a private security firm that will work with you for night time security. Perhaps you already have this or maybe someone else in the building does. Sometimes just knowing that someone is watching you walk to the car in a dark parking lot makes all the difference.

The easiest thing you can do is try it for yourself.  Stay late. Walk out the door on your own.  What are your thoughts?  What would you change? Chances are that how you feel walking out the door at night is the same as how your employees feel.  Take it a step further and park your car where your employees would, or take the train like your employees would, or walk a few blocks like your employees would.  Do as they do and now you will know.

Remember Your Employees

Every time you make an employee schedule better you equally make an employee happier. Then in turn they make your customers happier. And two happier people make the world a happier place, right? So will you please share this article and help make the world a happier place 🙂

And remember the bottom line — your employees. Build schedules your employees love. They will want to show up for them.

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